Dec 2, 2005

Biting the Hand That's Not Feeding You Tax Dollars

Troutdale's Downtown Urban Renewal Ad Hoc Committee has met a couple times to discuss our proposed urban renewal district at the old sewer treatment plant (If you've ever been to the Troutdale Outlet Mall, the area behind the outlet mall next to the river is the location).

I attended both meetings as an observer, and have been impressed by the open exchange of ideas. I commend the committee members for their dedication, initiative, and ideas. Some, like requiring a portion of subcontracting jobs for construction of new infrastructure for the urban renewal area to be reserved for Troutdale contractors, are worthy of consideration.

Others, such as the addition of skateboard parks, or the expansion of the urban renewal district boundary to include new signage, I will reserve judgment on while the committee works through these "what if" ideas.

I am concerned, however, that if an urban renewal district is approved by voters next year, some ideas may be proposed just to take advantage of the availability of urban renewal dollars. I'm not implying in any way that the ideas proposed so far by the ad hoc urban renewal committee are not worthy. What I'm saying is that extra care and deliberation will be required to make sure any capital improvement expenditures will pass the "smell test".

Let me put it another way. The Troutdale City Council will probably end up being the governing body for an approved urban renewal district. Generally, the current City Council has been prudent with its role as a watchdog of Troutdale's tax dollars, with one exception- the approximately $45,000 per year the city gives to the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce.

A majority of the Troutdale City Council could care less how those tax dollars are used by the Chamber. Two Council members referred to my requests for budget information from the Chamber as a "witch hunt" and an "inquisition" during the June 14, 2005 City Council meeting.

Troutdale city staffers have accused me of "burning bridges" with the Chamber by having the audacity to insist on accountability for Troutdale's tax dollars. And the Chamber Executive Board, bless their hearts, have completely stonewalled all requests, verbally, via e-mail, routed through city staff, or even in person, for any type of financial information.

Their latest stonewall was to refuse to accept an invitation from the city council to discuss progress of the Troutdale Transportation Management Association (TMA). In their rejection letter, the Chamber Executive Board even insisted that the city doesn't give any money to the Chamber.

It makes me wonder where they think the $45k in tax money comes from. The city passed an ordinance to collect extra hotel/motel tax. The city collects the tax from hotels and motels. The city passed an ordinance to give this money to the Chamber. The city Budget Committee and City Council approve the tax expenditure from Troutdale's general fund.

If the city doesn't give this $45k in tax money to the Chamber, I'd like to see what happens if the city decided to stop "not giving" the money to the Chamber. Given the Chamber Executive Board's childish and irrational behavior, I think the City of Troutdale should consider "not giving" that $45k in tax money to a more worthy, accountable, and goal driven tourist/marketing organization. As long as we're "not giving" the Chamber any tax money, I'm sure they wouldn't notice the missing $45k from their annual budget if we stopped "not giving" it to them.

I also wonder if the Chamber's general membership of fine business folks is aware of its Executive Board's efforts to bite the tax hand that feeds them.

But I digress. So I'll bring this discussion to the logical question: If the current Troutdale City Council doesn't care what happens to a mere $45,000 of taxpayer money per year just because it is being given to the good old boys and girls at the Chamber of Commerce, what kind of care will be taken with the tax increment financing dollars coming in from a proposed $20+ MILLION dollar urban renewal district?

Finally, just to be sure I cover my bases, Troutdale's city code requires me to say that anything I write on this blog are my opinion only, and not necessarily the position of the Troutdale City Council.

This disclaimer is also a gift to the Chamber of Commerce Executive Board. Feel free to use this disclaimer to continue your claims that I am merely pursuing my personal agenda of insisting on accountability for the taxpayer dollars the city is "not giving" to the Chamber.

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